My first attempt at the fermented suint method (FSM) of fleece cleaning was not a complete failure, I suppose. Though the FSM did not exactly render my fleece clean or usable, I can’t say to what extent this is due to my execution of the FSM, the FSM method itself and/or the condition of the fleece when I began.
Given San Francisco’s unusually cold temperatures during some of this period, I was surprised that fermentation began at all, but it did. My suint bath showed the telltale orange bubbles that other blogs said to look for:
Surprise! A seed sprouted in the wet fleece, a rather damning condemnation of my wool prep:
The stench was incredible. I had to walk away immediately after I removed the top of the tub, as I thought I was going to dry heave. I’d read online that it would stink but I was unprepared for how much. Other posts said “If you’re used to a barn then you’re used to these smells, anyway!” I respectfully disagree.
I am frequently on ranches, healthy ranches that smell but in the good barnyard way and not the feedlot way, and I do not exaggerate when I say I was nauseated while removing the fleece from the bath. My entire backyard smelled. I could smell it in our house with our sliding doors and windows closed. I could not open the sliding doors to the backyard or the entire downstairs filled with the smell and ascended the stairs right on up into the house. I fully expected my next door neighbors to have words with me.
When removing the fleece from the bath, it looked noticeably cleaner but not as clean as I hoped. My fleece was absolutely filthy beforehand and, though I picked at it for hours, I think it probably needed a great deal more wool prep –which I will soon learn at wool handling school!
I decided to run a little experiment since I suspected, from the look of my fleece coming out of the bath, that it would not become more than some nice wool compost. I understand why others advised using mesh laundry bags to contain the fleece while in the suint bath: I could not get the fleece out in one piece without it. Since it broke into three pieces, I designed my experiment thus:
- 1/3 was set out to dry directly out of the suint bath, with no rinse or other treatment aside from squeezing excess water out;
- 1/3 was rinsed and set out to dry;
- 1/3 was rinsed, washed with a little Palmolive, rinsed again and set out to dry.
The fleece washed with soap was cleanest (though not a great deal cleaner than the fleece that was rinsed), but none of them were clean enough to comb or card. Smell wise, none of them stank – yes, even the horrific post-bath stench completely disappeared from the fleece that was not rinsed. Texture wise, each fleece cluster dried into a tough sort of stiffened chunk. The fleece did not appear to have felted but it certainly came together as if it did at least a little bit, and this was true of all fleeces regardless of post-bath treatment.
In a demoralizing but very eco-friendly event, flies happily landed upon and burrowed into the fleece that was not washed or rinsed. Can a fleece alone get fly strike?! Many birds also enjoyed visiting each fleece and picking what I suspect were bugs and seeds out of it. That said, the fleece is in the compost bin, sad but true.
I do not think I will wash another batch of fleece in the suint bath. I think the fleece (which has a big case of the come-aparts anyway) may just be too filthy and vegetable-matter laden to continue putting this much effort (and water) into cleaning it. I admit that, having finished the first batch, my first thought was “This is something best left to wool mills!”